A First for Australia: Collective Action to Stamp out Litterbugs

Although it’s a topic often swept under the rug (if you will pardon the pun) litter is now looming large in social and government agendas, and with the NSW state election season coming up it’s a key part of their plan to improve our state.

Drawing delegates and presenters from across the country and internationally, the KNSWB Congress: Less Litter, Live Better – held on Friday and Saturday – was the first time Councils, industry and community organisations had a forum for sharing and establishing best practice to tackle the litter crisis. The focus of the Congress was long-term solutions to the litter problem that engaged communities and citizens in prevention rather than clean-ups.

The presentation that got everyone thinking was a workshop to explore in-depth psychology behind littering, from leading thinkers in behaviour change, Rob Curnow and Paula Drayton. This looked at the curious and frustrating phenomena whereby people still discard cigarette butts within metres of a bin, or why those who abhor littering on the beach will happily drop their waste on the ground of a sports stadium. Various justifications abounded, but the most interesting thing to come out of studies? Everyone litters, sometimes. No one’s guiltless and it has to do with deep-seated attitudes as well as dubious but unexamined definitions of exactly what litter is.

Rather than cause to lament, this is a great example of how awareness – one of the three pillars of litter reduction, which are Infrastructure, Education and Enforcement – can continually be used to improve littering practices and help conserve our beautiful environment.

Projects with proven success in this area were showcased from Bankstown, Penrith City, Blacktown and Manly Councils, as well as Porirua City Council in New Zealand. The First Appin Scout Group, Bushcare, Keep Australia Beautiful National and other organisations who have taken steps in reducing and preventing litter also exhibited their ideas.

Congress trio 1

It’s not just Councils who are hard at work in this arena. The National Packaging Covenant Industry Association took the opportunity to launch at the Congress their newest initiative, Australia’s Litter Action Plan, a program that will invest $50 million in reducing litter by 20% nationally by 2025. But NSW Government goals aim to keep the state well ahead of the game, with an ambitious target of a 40% reduction in litter by 2016. This is to match Victoria’s impressive record which currently tops Australia in terms of litter volume and number of items.

We were honoured to be the host of such an inspiring gathering, and want to give a big thank you to our partners Lion, Wrigley, the Australian Packaging Covenant, SITA Australia and our Congress Presenting Partner, the NSW EPA, for their support in enabling the event.

Congress Presenting Partner

EPAcolmed (1)


Congress supporting partners 


13 Responses to “A First for Australia: Collective Action to Stamp out Litterbugs”

  1. March 26, 2014 at 5:42 pm, Judy Quickenden said:

    I have read your comment above about the councils being hard at work in the littering area and have to tell you I see them as one of the biggest offenders where litter is concerned. The areas council is responsible for mowing are more often than not littered and instead of first doing a litter pick up before mowing the workers mow straight over any rubbish- plastic bags, glass bottles, aluminium cans and even a video cassette I found the other week (which disgusted me enough to photograph and send image to council to show what their workers are doing in our neighbourhoods) Maybe you could speak to them on my behalf as I have a no of times but it doesn’t seem to have instigated any change in their behaviour. I also have been told their is no litter education in Coffs Public Schools. And this is the most important time to influence the children to or not to litter. Judy Quickenden

    • April 04, 2014 at 8:04 am, Keep NSW Beautiful said:

      Hi Judy, thanks for your reply. That is quit disheartening. Both your point about the Council and about education are good ones though. Perhaps you could ask your local Coucil to book in our EnviroMentors team to come and teach in the local public schools? EnviroMentors is the largest incursion-based environmental education program in the state, and we have modules on everything from litter to water reduction to gardening!

  2. March 26, 2014 at 11:23 pm, Fran Corner said:

    Sorry I couldn’t make it. Not much in this article about CDL- what happened about CDL???

  3. March 27, 2014 at 9:32 am, Jeff Tate said:

    Very interesting, Cooma Monaro Shire Council have seen marked awareness and litter reduction after launching the “Keep Cooma Creek Clean what happens in the street affects the creek” and “Litter it just isn’t natural” programs were launched. Cooma being a tourist destination, litter has always been a high priority for the Resource and Waste Services of council.

    • April 04, 2014 at 8:06 am, Keep NSW Beautiful said:

      Great to here! And in fact our EnviroMentors were just in Cooma last week teaching school students there about litter reduction and sustainable living. Great stuff!

  4. March 27, 2014 at 4:45 pm, Kay Wall said:

    I have just started a campaign going in the Wyong Shire in regards to the litter in our area. Would love to hear how the other councils addressed this problem as it is becoming a major issue in our shire.

    • April 04, 2014 at 8:07 am, Keep NSW Beautiful said:

      Hi Kay, we had quite a few presentations from Councils who are using various methods to manage litter in their communities – we’ll be publishing them soon in a green paper which we’ll distribute to our database. Have you joined our mailing list? If not, get in touch so that we can add you in and keep you updated!

  5. March 27, 2014 at 8:12 pm, Bob Jackman said:

    I would have loved to have attended your Congress. Unfortunately, the pricing made it impossible for individuals like me not connected to any organisation to attend.
    I can’t believe the conclusion that ‘Everyone litters, sometimes’ My assessment would be that for every 1000 people, one person is a blatant litterer (excluding cigarette butts discarded) Perhaps what they meant is that “Everyone ignores the litter of others, most times”
    Therein lies the basis for my long term solution to the litter problem. Start educating kids in schools that it is OK to pick up the litter deposited by uncaring and irresponsible people, and run an advertising campaign urging everyone to do the same thing. Dishing out money to organisations to run local campaigns to prevent littering is not going to be effective in my view. We have done all the educating we can with that with excellent results. Those one in a thousand (mostly teenagers) that won’t heed the message cannot be cured, just like any other serial lawbreaker, so it is down to us to clean up their blatant litter. It is not a difficult thing for a society to do, once the mindset is changed, surely.

    • April 04, 2014 at 8:18 am, Keep NSW Beautiful said:

      Hi Bob, I’m sorry that you weren’t able to attend the Congress. We will be making some changes for next year, so hopefully it will be more accessible to all.

      One of the interesting things about the statement ‘everyone litters’ is that there’s a big difference between a ‘blatant litterer’ as you call them, and the ordinary person who is guilty of, maybe very occasionally, doing something that does contribute to the litter problem. I for one cannot say that my record is entirely clean, even though I am very environmentally conscious. In fact, almost everyone at the Congress admitted to some form of littering behaviour, at some point.

      The philosophy of Keep NSW Beautiful is based around litter prevention, not picking up after others. The data shows that littering behaviour is quite widespread, and that raised awareness can make a big impact on this. We want to stop littering in the first place, not lock ourselves into a cycle of continually picking it it up. When we send our educators our to teach children, it’s to instill a sense of the damage that litter does to the environment, their communities and others’ safety, not to pick up after others.

    • November 21, 2014 at 4:47 pm, Joy Solomon said:

      Dear Bob, I have been in Bankstown for the past 2yrs and have contacted every authorisation and council person I can think of. I too believe that littering starts with eduction in Primary school BUT can I get anyone to talk to NSW Education Department or Board of Studies to make sure this becomes a norm! NO one gets the concept that our Education Boards can make a difference to our Primary Students PLUS our secondary students at little cost!
      Good luck Bob , lets keep fighting to decrease litter!
      Many Thanks

  6. April 24, 2014 at 1:36 am, Jo Mulholland said:

    I honestly cannot imagine that I’ve ‘littered’ ANYWHERE. Just like I cannot swear. (Did not mean for that to rhyme.) I don’t believe that it is just something we all do ‘naturally’.

  7. June 16, 2014 at 6:39 pm, Joy said:

    Is anyone out there listening! BIN IT! Litter education starts at HOME followed up by Pre school, Primary & Secondary School and it costs nothing and the subject is every minute of every day! Every School should have a simple litter policy and monitors! There does not need to be an award for simple caring of our environment. Come on Schools it’s easy! BIN IT!